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  1. loria
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    #1

    "There is" versus "There are"

    I recently took a grammar test for an editing position. One of the questions on the test required the correct choice of "there is" or "there are." The test scorer marked this as my only error on the four-page, multiple choice/spelling/writing test.

    Following is the question. Please tell me I have not been in error all these years.

    1. is/are There ______ paper and water on the floor.


    Now, this is obviously a poorly written sentence. Still, the answer would have to be "are," as the speaker must anticipate the ending of the sentence and the two subjects noted. The test scorer told me that "There" is the subject and therefore takes the singular form of the verb.

    Will someone please respond in a clear way as to why "is" isn't possibly the correct answer? Once I've got the job, I'd like to approach the test scorer and have her re-think the answer. Or, maybe, the question : )

    Thanks!


    Lori


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    #2

    Re: "There is" versus "There are"

    Use 'There is..." when the noun that follows is singular, and "There are..." when it is plural:

    "There is/there's a pen and two pencils on the desk."
    "There are two pencils and a pen on the desk."

    So - "There is paper and water on the floor."
    We often use contractions in colloquial speech, such as 'there's' for 'there is'. This makes it quick and easy to say things like:
    "Hey! There's a car in my parking spot."

    Trouble is, there's no contraction for 'there are' : there're ????
    So, even when the following noun is plural, colloquially we tend to say:
    [COLOR="Purple"]"There's a few people I'd like you to meet."[/COLOR

    re The test scorer told me that "There" is the subject and therefore takes the singular form of the verb.

    Take heart: if your quote is accurate, the test scorer may know the correct answers to the test, but obviously not the grammatical reasons why.
    Last edited by David L.; 18-May-2009 at 06:28.

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    #3

    Re: "There is" versus "There are"

    The sentence is actually:
    'Paper and water are on the floor. '
    English changes such sentences using an existential 'there'. In such sentences the form of 'be' used is chosen to agree with the logical subject not with the existential there.

    There is a fly in my soup.
    There are two flies in my soup.

    There are two things on the floor.
    There are paper and water on the floor.

    If you say There is paper and water on the floor, you are saying paper and water is one thing. Or you mean There is paper. And water (missing is) on the floor, which of course you don't mean!


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    #4

    Re: "There is" versus "There are"

    I still hold to what I have said.
    I did think (at the time) that the two items on the floor were not related: that is, they were two completely separate items; but Pedroski has introduced the next step: considering two items mentioned in a sentence as one entity/unit.

    In that case, the sentence might be, 'there's a mess on the floor - there's/there is paper and water all over the place' - still a
    the singular 'is'.
    Last edited by David L.; 18-May-2009 at 11:33.

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    #5

    Re: "There is" versus "There are"

    The only way I see you being able to use 'is' is if you allow an ellipsed 'there is' before water. Otherwise you are saying 'Paper and water is' We can't have that now, can we? We are not George Bush nor Sarah Palin!


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    #6

    Re: "There is" versus "There are"

    No, teacher, we can't. Mummy told me I mustn't, because then we would be pointing to them, and saying,
    "(The) paper and water are there, and (the) paint is over there."
    where 'there' is not 'existential', indicating the fact that these 'exist', but means 'in, at, or to that place or position'.

    You've turned an existential use on its head!
    Last edited by David L.; 18-May-2009 at 14:49.

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    #7

    Re: "There is" versus "There are"

    Quote Originally Posted by Pedroski View Post
    The only way I see you being able to use 'is' is if you allow an ellipsed 'there is' before water. Otherwise you are saying 'Paper and water is' We can't have that now, can we? We are not George Bush nor Sarah Palin!
    Well, yes, we can. Simple mathematics is not always the answer as there can be other factors, and proximity often determines the choice of verb and before a singular noun people often use a singular verb, even though there may be more than one noun in the sentence.


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    #8

    Re: "There is" versus "There are"

    Tdol: You do so bring that singular note of moderation to bear on a discussion, that like some single-span bridge in music, whence over troubled waters all may cross to more reasoned pastures.**

    ** non-native speakers: this whole sentence is a hopelessly mixed metaphor/allusion to a lyric/structural engineering/Rationalism meets Romanticism.
    It means, thank you, Tdol, for your post.
    Last edited by David L.; 18-May-2009 at 19:42.

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    #9

    Re: "There is" versus "There are"

    Ok, I meant to say: if you use is, you are saying:

    Paper and water is on the floor. Which to me looks like:

    Two things is on the floor.

    You would not say (I sincerely hope): 'My wife and I is hungry.' Nor 'Paper and water is different things.' But in reference to their spatial location you want to use is? That means, as you mentioned above, you regard (paper and water) as a singular noun. Does that have precedents in English?


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    #10

    Re: "There is" versus "There are"

    Paper and water is on the floor. Which to me looks like:

    Two things is on the floor.

    You would not say (I sincerely hope): 'My wife and I is hungry.'


    You are extrapolating from the grammatical correctness of one form of sentence, to another that is using the 'existential' function of 'there' and saying, ditto.

    I said earlier that, "You've turned an existential use on its head!" Let me explain what I meant:
    There is a biblical/poetic/archaic (well, certainly quaint) form of this usage of 'there' where the order is reversed (as in your reversal, ''paper and water are on the floor":
    "Faith and hope and charity are there on earth, and the greatest of these is charity."

    With the reversal, two or more nouns, whether singular or plural in their own right, precede the verb, and so the subject of the sentence becomes plural, with the verb 'to be' in the plural form - hence, 'are'.
    So -"Paper and water are there on earth...and paint too!"

    Enjoying the discussion, Pedroski - with some banter.
    You keep us 'oh, so you know it all' native speakers on our toes and up to the mark, able to justify what we say - and with the ensuing discussion, hopefully show that the English language has a logic to it!
    Last edited by David L.; 19-May-2009 at 12:47.

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